Songwriting Tips

Iconic pop/film/TV hit songwriter David Foster's TEN TIPS FOR SONGWRITERS:

Hit Songwriter Kim WIlliams


"The best advice you'll ever get - three words: write, write, write."

"...if you're having trouble on a line & just can't get it right, check the line before it. Usually it's the line before that's holding you up. Fix that & the rest will fall into place." —Kim Williams

For more great info and advice from this great writer and others, visit

Melanie Candles In The Rain

"My idea about songs is that once you write them, you have very little say in their life afterward. It's a lot like having a baby. You conceive a song, deliver it, and then give it as good a start as you can. After that, it's on its own. People will take it any way they want to take it." —Melanie

"The minute you start thinking about trying to write what other people might like is the minute that the heart and soul goes out of what you do." —Glenn Tilbrook, Squeeze

"Be honest with yourself. Recognize what you do well and recognize what you need to do better. We are all good at something and not so good at other things. That's fine. That's what makes it so cool to be human and to meet other humans. Don't be afraid to admit your shortcomings. Examine those and try to improve them. And don't be afraid to embrace the things at which you excel. Work on those too and be the very best you can find." —Kurt Denny, Still Working Music

"Wherever men have lived there is a story to be told, and it depends chiefly on the storyteller or historian whether that is interesting or not. You are simply a witness on the stand to tell what you know about your neighbors and neighborhood." —The Heart of Thoreau's Journals

Chuck Cannon

"As much as I can I want to encourage writing alone...when you write alone, what it ends up teaching you how to do is close the song teaches you how to teaches you how to communicate an entire idea...because it's all on [YOU]..."—Chuck Cannon

Walt Aldridge

This Songwriting Tip from hit songwriter Walt Aldridge is actually a wonderful SONG— a classic about songwriting called "Say Just What You Feel and Make it Rhyme." We manage to coax Walt into playing it every year at the EXPO (he has been to nearly every single DSE). So- if you've never been to one of our EXPOs (yet) and had the opportunity to meet Walt and the many other hit songwriters that appear twice a year, click on the link below to hear this incredibly poignant and funny (and INSPIRING) song by a great songwriter about songwriting! The song has been excerpted from a recent conversation with Walt, exclusively for

Say Just What You Feel and Make it Rhyme - Walt Aldridge

Visit Walt's Website!

Additionally, Walt and Gary Baker (songwriter of the #1 hit "I Swear" and Lonestar's smash "I'm Already There") conducted a very interesting and informative Songwriter Workshop at the 2005 Wine Country Expo. This Workshop is available in the Members Only Backstage.

Tia Sillers

This Songwriting Tip comes from the irrepressible Tia Sillers who, along with her husband, hit songwriter and blues-rocker extraordinaire Mark Selby, conducted a Songwriting Workshop at EXPO 2004 in Telluride.

While Tia is most famous perhaps for having co-written (with Mark D. Sanders) Lee Ann Womack's mega-selling (and multi-award winning) "I Hope You Dance," you'll find no "one-hit-wonder" here.

She also co-wrote (with Mark Selby and KWS) Kenny Wayne Shepherd's "Blue On Black," which holds the record as the longest number one in rock chart history: a whopping 17 weeks. Tia is no stranger to the country charts either, having written Pam Tillis' number one "Land of the Living" and the Dixie Chicks' (again with Mark Selby) smash "There's Your Trouble." Recently, Alan Jackson made the charts with "That'd be Alright," yet another Siller's co-write.

Says Tia: "As a songwriter (and as a person) you become what you do. So you better be darn careful that what you are doing, and what you are writing, is really what you want to become. This business can take your soul (and your heart) and you can wake up and it's not there... and you don't know how to get it back..." On a more practical note, the self- appointed "Queen of Low-Tech" has this tip: "I call myself on my cell phone [and record my ideas]... tapes are a quagmire! The great thing about the cell phone message is that it comes up every few days! You never have to hunt for it and after you listen to it you can decide whether to write it down and keep it or just delete it."

How To Be A Hit Songwriter

This Songwriting Tip comes from Molly Leikin, a leading songwriting consultant, author, and hit songwriter. Molly moderated the Santa Barbara Film & TV Panel Discussion (see above) and offers no- nonsense advice for songwriters. Molly-Ann Leikin has a house full of gold and platinum records, plus an Emmy nomination. She has written themes and songs for thirty-five TV shows and movies, including the Oscar-winning "Violet. " Molly heads the international consulting firm of Songwriting Consultants, Ltd at

Says Molly, "The songs in a film should be the sub-text, and it shouldn't have anything at all to do with the dialogue, and it SHOULD have to do with WHAT THEY DIDN'T SAY."

Jack Tempchin

This Songwriting Tip comes from the GREAT Jack Tempchin who brought down the house in Santa Barbara with his wonderful live performances of the classics "Peaceful Easy Feeling" and "Slow Dancing." Jack (left - photo courtesy of Gene Sorensen) is being applauded by Glen Phillips (formerly of Toad the Wet Sprocket) who shared the stage with Jack and a host of other major-league songwriters on the final night of the event.

Telling of how "Peaceful Easy Feeling" came to be recorded by the Eagles (and helped launch one of the greatest bands of all time), Jack recounted how he played the song for the band spontaneously in their living room while he was busy doing all the "traditional" songwriter self-promotion activities - sending out songs, meeting with publishers, etc. - and the next time he saw Glen Frey, he was told, "oh, by the way, we're cutting your song." The rest is history!

Says Jack, "It NEVER happens the REGULAR WAY [mailing out tapes, soliciting publishers and A&R departments]. It ALWAYS happens SOME OTHER WAY!"

Words of Wisdom...

"If you're dedicated, if it's something that lives and breathes in your heart, then you've simply got to go ahead and do it." —Rodney Crowell (Rodney was a Featured Performer at EXPO 2001 - he showed up with JD Souther as a special guest - how cool was that?)

"Once you replace negative thoughts with positive ones, you'll start having positive results." —Willie Nelson

"See with your heart" —Ronnie Milsap

"Don't be afraid to give up the good to go for the great." —Kenny Rogers


This Songwriting Tip comes from Derek Sivers, founder of CD Baby (, now the largest seller of independently released cds on the Internet (4.5 million dollars paid out to Indie Artists!). Derek worked for Warner Chappell Music Publishing (NYC) and is an accomplished guitarist, producer and entrepreneur extraordinaire!

"The thing that I've learned the most over the last few years is that you can get so much out of books that weren't written about the music business, like an old book with a terrible title called, 'Think and Grow Rich' (by Napoleon Hill). Even if you've already read it, go read it again. You can replace the word "rich" with any word that you want but learn from that book. It's about getting what you want. Use what you learn from that book to become the best at your craft, the best live entertainer, the best producer. It's just an incredible book."

Don't miss the Do Your Own Thing Panel Discussion in our Member's Only Backstage which features Derek and others discussing how to promote and sell your music.

Jimbeau Hinson

This Songwriting Tip comes from hit songwriter* Jimbeau Hinson who is featured in a BackStage Interview. CONGRATULATIONS JIMBEAU on your GRAMMY NOMINATION! (The Oak Ridge Boys: Performance by Country Duo or Group with vocal on "COLORS" written by Jimbeau Hinson and Rocko Hermance!)

"My favorite thing is fragments...if you string the fragments together right it makes movies go off in your head. You can SAY SO MUCH MORE WITH LESS!"

*Fancy Free (The Oak Ridge Boys), Hillbilly Highway (Steve Earle), Train of Memories (Kathy Mattea), Broken Trust (Brenda Lee), Harmony (John Conlee), Party Crowd (David Lee Murphy)

Jeffrey Steele

This Songwriting Tip comes from hit songwriter* Jeffrey Steele who is featured in a BackStage Songwriting Workshop:

"I think [as a songwriter] you become a product of your environment— I haven't done anything different— you just gotta keep goin', keep learnin', keep trying. We're in a business of survival. For every time I've gone up to the top of the hill and made some money I can tell you a hundred times that I've been as broke as I could be, sleeping in the park thinking what the hell am I doin'? You gotta realize that THAT'S THE GIG. That's what we're doing. You're just trying to find a way to keep rolling, keep being creative, keep expanding what you know and who you're writing with. There's no other way around it other than just sticking to it. Fall on your face a hundred times because one time you're not gonna. This whole business is about falling on your face and getting back up."

"The most important thing in any song is the first note. The very first note has to mean something— has to immediately make the listener go "huh?" Something has to grab you— the first note or drum beat, the first line— 'cause you got three minutes to be brilliant or to get your [song] across."

*BMI's Songwriter of the Year for 2003, Jeffrey's songs have been recorded by some of Nashville's biggest stars: Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Trace Adkins, Montgomery Gentry, Collin Raye, Diamond Rio, LeAnn Rimes, Rascal Flatts, Randy Travis, Lonestar, Jamie O'Neal, and just about every other major act in country music!

Visit Jeffrey Steele's Website

Steven McClintock

This Songwriting Tip comes from hit songwriter* Steven McClintock who is featured in a BackStage Interview. We asked Steven, "What advice can you give our readers and radio listeners to help them keep on keepin' on?"

McClintock: "Just that - keep on keepin' on! It is a tough business with many rewards. But you really have to love it because it sometimes takes awhile to pay off, if ever. If that is all you are looking for - cash rewards - I would try something else. If you get OTHER highs from it, you love the music, you love the process, you love the people, then hang in there and keep learning. Never stop listening and learning. I truly feel you have to surround yourself with great talent, great advice, and great tools in order to keep up and pass the very large pack traveling with you on this journey. LOTS of good songwriters out there, not lots that have all that it takes to succeed. Pay attention and again, get the tools you need to make it happen and work at it. It usually doesn't happen on your timeline so prepare for the long haul. Lastly my quote for the day: 'Learn from the best - not the luckiest!'"

*Steven scored a smash with Tiffany's hit All This Time from her debut record which has sold over 4.3 million copies.

Visit Steven McClintock's Website

Amy Dalley

This Songwriting Tip comes from hit songwriter Amy Dalley. While Amy is enjoying great success as a Curb Recording artist with two songs from her upcoming debut album already on the country charts, this talented lady is first and foremost a SONGWRITER.*

"Be honest and fearless. Have courage to be different, to say things the way YOU would say them. Don't think too hard about "if" people will like what you have to say - just believe in it and say it. To me, songwriting isn't a business, it is more a way of life; it is like breathing. It helps to be able to look back at a song I wrote a year ago and be able to recapture exactly what I felt on that day - because I was true to myself."

*Amy received a Gold Record for "My Sister," cut by Reba. Dreamworks recording artist Roxie Dean recently cut "Women Know Women." "Destroy the Evidence" and Breakin It Down" were recently covered by Jodee Messina. New Lyric Street artist Nikki Horner has cut "What Love Is," "Happy Place" and "I Think I'm Comin Around." Martina Mcbride recently recorded "Wounded."

Visit Amy Dalley's Website

Graham Nash's Off The Record

As "nurturing" and "encouraging each other" are mainstays of the Durango Songwriters EXPO, we thought this quote from legendary songwriter and seminal folk music icon Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul and Mary) was highly appropriate for this Tip section.

"My advice to aspiring writers is to be part of a community of songwriters; nurture each other, validate each other, and encourage each other to write from the heart."*

*From the TERRIFIC new book by Graham Nash entitled "Off the Record: Songwriters on Songwriting." Click here to buy the book.

Mark Selby

"As a songwriter, try to really study the songs that mean a lot to YOU and see what makes them tick and see how your songs stack up...what you're doing well and not so well, and then get feedback...and NEVER FORGET WHAT MADE YOU START WRITING SONGS...what made you want to write songs...people can get so overly concerned with craft and the business of things that they can forget that kernel of life...DON'T EVER FORGET THAT..." —Mark Selby, Hit Songwriter,* Vanguard Records Recording Artist.

Visit Mark Selby's Website

*There's Your Trouble (Dixie Chicks), Blue on Black (Kenny Wayne Shepherd)

ASCAP's Ralph Murphy

Attendees at Durango Songwriters Expo 2002 were treated to a tremendously interesting and thought provoking seminar (available in its entirety in the Members Only BackStage) conducted by Ralph Murphy, ASCAP Vice President, International and Domestic Membership, Nashville. Ralph's passion for music and songwriting is obvious to everyone who meets him, everywhere he goes (and that's a lot of places!)

Ralph is a veteran songwriter/publisher/producer, and an instructor for NSAI's Song Camps. His songwriting credits include Ronnie Milsap's "He Got You," Crystal Gayle's "Half The Way" and Kathy Mattea's "Seeds."

Our Songwriting Tip comes from this venerable songwriter and lecturer. (Catch Ralph's entire forty-five minute Workshop on "Writing for Radio" at Backstage - Member's Only).

Ralph's SONGWRITING TIP: "If you're going to enter into this BUSINESS of music, then behave like a professional. The first thing you do is FIND OUT WHAT THEY'RE LOOKING FOR...nobody cares about YOU...they care about THEMSELVES AS YOU SEE THEM. Your job is to GIVE THEM THEMSELVES as you see them."


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Love of songwriting 
I am 14. Ever since I was 5 I have wanted to become a singer and an actress. I am a good singer and I am always singing while doing my chores, folding …

Great tips from great songwriters! 
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Are you out there? 
I'm looking for a way to spread my wings as a songwriter. I have written close to sixty five songs but still have a problem on pushing them forward. I …

Johnny Mudd "The Mudd Man" Mudd Mania / TV Personality 
Blah, blah, blah, "Keep on keeping on," how about reading lots of BOOKS, there's a novel tip, not one PRO suggested that, what a pack of BS. If you're …

Song Critique Service 
I run Noisy Planet. I just wanted to let all the Durango Songwriter folks know in relation to this songwriting article that we offer Pro Song Critique …

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